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Crime & Courts

Charges say Anchorage US Army officer lied about thefts to collect $400K in insurance money

A U.S. Army officer based in Anchorage faces federal charges alleging he made false insurance claims for more than four years, using the money to pay down personal debts and expenses like credit cards, multiple vehicles and mortgage loans.

Christopher James DeMure, 40, was charged with one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering Wednesday. He is accused of defrauding two insurance providers for hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska on Wednesday.

DeMure is a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel currently assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. He recently returned to Alaska after a deployment to Afghanistan, where he commanded a task force of roughly 2,200 people, court documents say.

From September 2014 to at least February 2018, DeMure claimed $475,000 from two insurance companies — USAA Federal Savings Bank and American Express — and, of that, was paid out $394,000.

"(He) has spent much of the insurance payout money," federal prosecutors say. The charges allege he spent the money on car loans, credit card bills, mortgage payments and other personal debts and expenses, including paying off a 2016 Chevrolet Suburban and a 2016 Audi A7.

Prosecutors say that DeMure purchased items such as jewelry, clothing and electronics that he later used to file fake insurance claims. DeMure, buying items both online and in stores, would either cancel the online order or physically return the item for a full refund, and then falsely claim that the item had been lost.

DeMure began filing fraudulent claims with USAA Federal Savings Bank in 2014, and in 2015, he started filing false claims with American Express too, prosecutors say. He would file the same claims to both insurance companies.

Evidence provided in support of those false claims was sometimes fraudulent, prosecutors say. In some cases, explanations DeMure made for how the items were lost were "partially or entirely fraudulent," charges say.

USAA Federal Savings Bank withholds a certain amount of an insurance payout until there's proof that the person has replaced the lost item, prosecutors write. Many times, DeMure would buy the replacement item, provide the receipt to the bank, and then return the item, while the bank paid out the remaining money.

Prosecutors say that DeMure's scheme to defraud involved "at least seven" different incidents.

For instance, charges says, in July 2017, DeMure called the Palmer Police Department to report that he had left a red-colored North Face backpack in a Fred Meyer parking lot. Inside were items including an Apple iWatch and jewelry, he told police. He estimated the loss at several thousand dollars.

DeMure filed an insurance claim with American Express, and he submitted a Palmer Police Department report that police said wasn't real. In August 2017, he asked for roughly $13,000 in lost goods from the Palmer incident. In three separate claims, he said that four different bags had been lost or stolen, not one, as he had told Palmer police, prosecutors say.

In fall 2017, American Express notified the FBI that DeMure may be engaging in fraudulent activity.

DeMure was arrested Thursday morning, prosecutors said. He was expected to appear in court Friday.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.